Don’t Call Them Animals

Monday evening, as televisions and computer screens showed image after image of destruction in Baltimore, my Facebook newsfeed filled up with them too. Friends and family expressed anger, fear, embarrassment, regret, sadness – all very natural responses to the events taking place in “our” city.

But along with those responses came one awful word, again and again: “Animals!” “The animals.” “Those animals.” “They are animals.”

I scrolled past post after post of people calling other people animals.

(By the way, if you’re wondering whether I’m thinking of you in particular as I write this – I’m not. I saw so many posts I can’t begin to remember who wrote what.)

There are any number of things one might call the rioters. You might call them idiots. You might call them criminals. You might call their actions shameful or opportunistic or simply wrong. Baltimore’s mayor called them thugs.

But you shouldn’t deny that they’re people.

The rioters are not animals. They are people who think and feel and sin and help and hurt. They are complicated. They are capable of great love and terrible evil. Each and every one of them is made in the image and likeness of God. Each and every one is inherently valuable.

Because they are human.

When you call people animals, you buy into the lie that human life is cheap. You judge people’s worth by their utility, by their sinfulness, by their actions in a short, defined period of time.

When you call people animals, you feed anger and mistrust and hate.

And to be honest, when you call a crowd of black people animals, you hearken to a time when society really did – culturally and legally – view blacks as less than human.

So call out the rioters for the harm they’re doing to the City of Baltimore. Say that it’s unacceptable to steal and destroy. Say that it’s mind-bogglingly foolish to cut fire hoses. Say that it’s disgusting to throw bricks and cinder blocks at people.

Say you’re angry. Say they’re wrong. Say that this whole thing is a big, embarrassing mess. Debate thuggery, police violence, gang violence, and racism.

But don’t deny anyone’s humanity. Don’t call people animals.

The term is unworthy of them – and it’s unworthy of you too.

7 thoughts on “Don’t Call Them Animals

  1. I agree with you and understand your point, even though to be honest, humans ARE animals. Nearly all of our behavior is completely consistent with other mammals. The only unique qualities to the human animal are the degree to which we adapt technologies, and a seemingly endless capacity and interest in invented self-deception (stories, myths, art, making stuff up). We are the animals that lie, and make amazing tools.

    In the instance of comment on the unrest, I wouldn’t use the word though.

  2. Pingback: Riots are the Voice of the Unheard: Thoughts on Baltimore | Fumbling Toward Grace

  3. Comparing humans to animals is a disgrace to animals. (Even though, technically, we are.)

    No other animal will kill and torture other animals for beauty reasons.
    No other animal will kill another animal just because they feel like it.
    No other animal hates its own species just for a few differences such as religion or color.
    No other animal bullies other animals so bad, they commit suicide.

    Animals tend to do things to sustain their lives. Humans do horrible things for entertainment value and to establish dominant/submissive relationships.

    Besides being pointlessly vicious, humans also have the capacity to destroy life on this planet, as evidenced by war, pollution, and global warming.

    Humans are far more aggressive and dangerous than any other animal hands down!

    The people that are looting, stealing and using the demonstrations/riots to further their own greed or lives with stolen property are thugs.

    • Humans can indeed do great evil. But they don’t begin that way, and most never indulge in the behaviors you describe. Humans are so much more. Let’s be the kind of people who love, who heal, who wrestle with and rise above all that hate. And let’s – you and me, both of us – encourage others to do the same.

  4. This is very true and needed to be said. I would also argue that the term “thug” is problematic, given it’s racial history. But yes, the worst is “animals” or even “monkeys” – a particularly racist term – used on Facebook, often by “good Christian people.” There’s a long history of white Americans describing black Americans as less than human, as animals, and we are not past that. Not by a long shot.

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